By Julie Miller
Four years after launching The Style Rookie at the age of 11 -- the spunky style blog that would earn her early acceptance into the fashion world, a front-row runway seat next to Anna Wintour, and features in Teen Vogue, French Vogue, and New York Times Magazine -- Tavi Gevinson embarked on a new endeavor. Working from her bedroom/office in suburban Chicago last year, Gevinson created Rookie Magazine, an online publication for thinking young women that offers advice, playlists, artistic inspiration, and interviews with feminist role models such as Lena Dunham and quirk-embracing creatives such as David Sedaris and John Waters. (Not to mention the unexpected opportunity of watching Jon Hamm video-chat earnest relationship advice to 16-year-old girls.)
To celebrate its inaugural year, the publication released its first book, Rookie Yearbook One -- a collection of the site’s best articles and illustrations so far -- and organized a 16-city summer road trip, during which Tavi and her colleagues traveled across the U.S. to meet their stylish young readers for pajama parties, flea-market outings, and crown-making craft nights. This weekend, as an informal curtain call, Gevinson returns to L.A. for several Rookie events, including a reading and signing on Friday, a zine workshop on Saturday, and a concert/dance party on Sunday.
In anticipation of her weekend on the West Coast, the Hollywood Blog called Tavi earlier this week to hear about her dreams of expanding Rookie, that surreal road trip, and her first acting job, as a normal, jeans-wearing teenager in Nicole Holofcener’s next film.
Julie Miller: What’s a regular weekly schedule like for you, in between running Rookie -- where you manage 40 to 50 writers, illustrators, and photographers -- going to high school, and having free time for yourself?
Tavi Gevinson: Every day, I kind of have in my brain a few slots of what I want to do. Like school, sleep, homework, Rookie, hanging out with friends, mindless relaxation time, and then trying to do my own creative things. Every day, some of those have to be compromised, so that part is a little upsetting, but I also think that it makes me appreciate the time I do have to relax or be creative a lot more. Last year, when Rookie started and my life had become a lot busier than it had ever been, I also started taking my diary really seriously. Somehow, I made more things in my spare time last year than I did before. With all of the stress that comes with Rookie, I’m more stressed out when it’s not there, because I need to know that I am doing everything that I possible can without totally killing myself for the site to be good.
The creative component seems to come very naturally to you, but how easy is the business-management side for you?
It does not come as naturally. In some ways that stuff is really interesting to me. In other ways, I don’t really like having to think of people reading our site and to whom it will mean something as numbers. It freaks me out and I don’t like it. I also understand that that’s an important part of it, and ultimately we want people to see the site, so that those who are meant to connect with it will. And that means paying attention to the business side... even though I’d kind of like to just hide in the woods and just be creative.
When you started blogging, you were known for your interest in fashion. Since then, your focus has shifted and expanded to female and creative empowerment. Do you remember when and how that transition started?
I think it was all very fluid. I remember starting to read feminist text and also becoming a teenager and feeling confused about that. I never felt like I was denouncing fashion. In a way, I still think that I am obsessed with it, except for when my friend asked me the other day if I had looked at any shows from this past Fashion Week yet. And I realized that it had just kind of slipped my mind. There’s a lot that I haven’t looked at. I feel like now fashion is just part of how I think about everything. When I send out a mood board to our contributors every month about our monthly theme, there are photos from our fashion shows, but there are also film stills and album art. I feel like it’s just part of everything in my brain right now.
You’ve been blogging since you were 11. Does the idea of your thoughts and feelings, from those formative years especially, being available on the Internet ever worry you?
It freaks me out a lot -- thank you for bring that up [laughs]. Right now, I feel pretty OK about it, but there are definitely phases where I am up looking at my Tumblr archives and I am absolutely mortified. But I feel like that is part of being a person and you kind of just have to be on nodding terms with whoever you used to be, because if not, you will kind of just start to hate yourself. And that’s no fun. I feel like one thing that a lot of creative people go through is that they feel like they don’t have the right to be creative or to put their stuff out there. I’m glad that blogging from a young age kind of got that out of the way for me.
I feel like girls and women especially have this kind of struggle with feeling like your thoughts aren’t worth sharing or whatever. Ultimately, though, the thing that blogging and Rookie has changed most about my life is the way recording all of my thoughts every day has shaped and defined my tastes and the way I see things. I basically like how that goes most of the time, so I am grateful for that.
Rookie really captures the way that teenagers can feel disconnected from their high-school classmates sometimes—that feeling of being an alien among their peers. How does having a successful career affect the way you relate to students in your school, and how aware are they of Rookie?
It’s hard for me to know what part of my feeling like an alien is just how I am and how I have always been. I don’t know what parts of it are like, “I just got back from a really exciting trip and now I’m in trigonometry.” So I guess... One thing that I realized is that it’s not like there are some people and some teenagers who feel weird and disconnected, and then everyone else is a happy cheerleader. I think there is a part of that in everyone. So I just can’t even imagine that my classmates even care. I feel like, in general, people in high school are pretty ramped up in their own thing and their own friend group. Nobody really bothers me about it, so I don’t really care about what they think of me.
You were on the road for over a month this past summer with the Rookie Road Trip. What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
It sounds so cliché, but it really just feels like a weird hazy dream. You’re in this moving thing all day and then all of a sudden you’re in a totally new place, and then you have this kind of surreal event where you get to meet all of these people that take in what you put out in the world, and then you are gone and you’re on to the next city and you’re on this weird spaceship thing again. It wasn’t really a learning, Eat, Pray, Love experience, but I definitely felt inspired. But there was a lot that we saw that I keep going back to as references, just visually now.
Of all of the surreal moments, is there one that stuck with you most?
Well, I tried to draw in my journal the way that all of these vignettes looked -- these moments that did feel very special. Big Sur was beautiful. That was my favorite place we went to, and I do have this image in my head of running on the beach. Also, there is no way for me to describe this without me sounding like I was on drugs, which I was not.. but I was at the end of a very long road trip. Anyway, this one moment felt really special, because you know with sunglasses when you look inside and it reflects what is behind you in a weird way in the corner? I was running on the beach and there was this very thin layer of water on the sand where you could see my reflection and then there was a really beautiful blue sky with fluffy clouds and these weird reflections in my sunglasses. I don’t know how to describe it. Everything just kind of looked like gossamer. That was very bizarre and cosmic and I promise I was not on drugs.
Would Rookie organize another road trip?
I would like to. And I would like a Rookie retreat, a Rookie camp, a Rookie Girl Scout trip. We’ll just have to see how things continue to develop.
You also just finished your first acting job, on Nicole Holofcener’s next film with Catherine Keener. Can you talk about your part a little?
I read the script while we were on the road and then I auditioned for the part the day after we got to L.A., which was our last stop on the trip. I loved the role because we were just talking about that feeling of [being] slightly disconnected, and this [character] is not in high school but she just graduated and that feeling kind of sticks with her... Normally I think that you think of those characters as the weirdos -- like you think those characters only exist in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" or a Winona Ryder movie. But this girl is totally normal, wears jeans, and is OK at school, but still feels that way. It’s not like she’s found some kind of alternative subculture where that feeling is OK. She just lives in this really normal world with moms who love yogurt and still feels that way. I just thought that was really interesting.
Was it positive enough of an experience that you would consider pursuing a career in acting?
Oh, I’d really like to. The experience was very, very special. In a way, it’s kind of like the road trip in memory. It was really fast and you’re just trying to keep up with everything and do a good job. You’re also sort of half yourself and half someone else, but I loved it a lot and would like to do something like that again.
You talked about starting Rookie retreats and camps and acting. What else do you see in your future? Will you be applying to colleges soon?
Well, I’d like to take a gap year before college, and I want to go to a school where I don’t necessarily have to break off everything else I’m doing in order to pursue my studies. I feel lucky in that I don’t really have to go to college to study something job-specific. I just want to go to learn about what is interesting to me and learn about the classes that you don’t really get to take in high school because you have to take the basics.
You have this great series on your site called “Ask a Grown Man” where well-known grown men like Jon Hamm and Judd Apatow will answer questions from readers about everything from relationships to self-esteem. Have you had any traction in your campaign to get President Obama to do the feature?
I believe we have one or two leads, but then we kind of gave it a rest because, you know, there were a few other things I figured he was busy with. I think I would have felt a little guilty, too. Like, what if he didn’t win and I thought, “Oh man, if only he hadn’t made that five-minute video for Rookie”? If all goes well, in my opinion, and he has some time later on, we might pick that back up again.
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